Will Phil Bounce Back

By Mercer BaggsDecember 28, 2006, 5:00 pm
2007 Big Questions Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is our No. 3 question for the upcoming season.
 
They asked a few years ago in a commercial, What will Phil do next? We ask now, Will Phil recover from his Winged Foot hangover?
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is a four-time U.S. Open runner-up.
Phil Mickelson was closing in on the mountain top last year until he lost his grip, slipped, tumbled down the steep slope, and never came close to reaching the summit again.
 
It took just six swings to change the course of golf history. A double bogey on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open dropped Phil from one up to one down. And then he basically dropped off the golfing map.
 
Mickelson was leading the U.S. Open entering the par-4 18th at Winged Foot. He then sliced his drive off a hospitality tent, hit a tree with his second shot, put his third into a fried-egg lie in the left greenside bunker, took two more shots to get his ball on the green, and then made an 8-footer for double.
 
Had Mickelson made his par, or even a bogey and then defeated Geoff Ogilvy in a Monday playoff, he would have become just the third player in the last 70+ years to win three consecutive major championships.
 
It also would have been his first U.S. Open title and put him three legs along the way to completing the career Grand Slam. And, with Tiger Woods missing the cut, it would have established him as the games best (for that moment in time).
 
Winning three majors in a row and Phil Mickelson would have been the best. And we would be saying, Tiger Woods, where have you gone? said Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo.
 
But none of that ever came to fruition. Instead, he finished runner-up in this event for the fourth time in his career. And the devastation was clearly visible on his face and in his speech after the loss.
 
Im such an idiot, he said, that final word plastered on newspaper headlines across the country the next day.
 
Mickelson played only five more stroke-play events after June 18. Only once during that stretch did he finish inside the top 20; that coming at the PGA Championship, where he faltered on Sunday with a 74 to tie for 16th ' 12 back of Woods, who ended all doubt as to who was The Man with six straight PGA TOUR wins to close the season.
 
Mickelson was last seen on TV with a golf club in his hands at the Ryder Cup ' and he didnt wield his weapon very well, brutally going 0-4-1.
 
After that was over, his season was over. Mickelson called it quits, went home to his family. He skipped the season-ending TOUR Championship. He said that he wouldnt play in the season-beginning Mercedes Championships.
 
Mickelson is scheduled to make his return to tournament golf at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, nearly four months after the U.S. was handed yet another embarrassing loss at the hands of the Europeans.
 
Hes won the Bob Hope before ' twice, in fact. He first did so in a playoff in 2002. He did so again in a playoff in 2004.
 
On both occasions, the Hope was Mickelsons first event of the season. And in 2004 he was coming off a dismal 03 campaign, one in which he failed to win anything and went 0-5 in the Presidents Cup.
 
There are some similarities to make one think that he can bounce right back and do it again. However, Mickelson has never entered a season with this much baggage. As frustrating as times were before he was a major champion, nothing has hurt him as much as what transpired on the final hole Sunday in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
 
So will he recover from his hangover? Will he be the man who made it to No. 2 in the world and had one hand on Tigers crown?
 
He has too much talent not to recover,' said Golf Channel and CBS analyst Peter Oosterhuis, 'but who knows?
 
One would think that he would, but having not played at the end of the year, and having not played very well when he did, there are some questions he has to answer (in 2007).
 
And, according to Nobilo, Mickelson should be itching to answer said questions when he does get back on the course.
 
Phil wants 07 to start ' erase the second half of 06 like it didnt happen and then start again, Nobilo said. There has been a hangover effect. It has to end soon. Thats why I think he took off all the time at the end of 06 (to mentally recover).
 
Did it work? Will he win right away, or will he have to ease into the season ' build up momentum and confidence heading into his title defense at the Masters Tournament?
 
Or will it take longer for Mickelson to regain his swagger? A year? Two? More?
 
What happens the next time he takes a lead heading down the back nine of a major championship? And will he have that opportunity any time soon?
 
Perhaps its still appropriate to ask, What will Phil do next?
 
Related Links:
  • Reviewing 2006; Previewing 2007
  • Mickelson Wins Masters Tournament
  • Mickelson Collapses at U.S. Open
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”